“Are you a Muslim?” A Corporate Attorney Answers Hesitantly…



Subject:  Research regarding duty of candor in a forum nonconveniens (translation:  Being honest even when it isn’t convenient)

Question Presented:  Are you Muslim?

Short Answer:  Hesitant yes.  Please see analysis below.

  1. Introduction
    1. A lawyer has the duty to duty to disclose all relevant, pertinent and truthful information.

As soon as she asked me if I was Hindu or Muslim I felt paralyzed.  The time between the question and my answer felt like an eternity.  During that eternal pause I could feel the sweat trickling down my outlet bought polyester shirt.   I quickly tried to find an escape route and found myself toying with the idea of telling a white lie.  I could have just said something like, “Oh my family isn’t very religious,” or just lied and said I was Hindu, or maybe I should have distracted her and pretended like I was experiencing an unexpected medical emergency.  Instead, I did the unthinkable – I answered, “Muslim.”

I was in the middle of talking to a partner at my law firm about why my family was never supportive of a legal career.  I told her that most Indians encourage their children to study either “maths” or medicine, anything in between is for failures.  She being the ever curious cross examiner began asking me questions about the exotic customs of the Far East, which ultimately led her to ask about religion.  At that moment my secret had been discovered.  I felt as though I had been found out.  I had gone from being the non threatening, exotic, yoga practicing dots not feathers Indian to the enemy.

  1. Background – The Facts of the Case

I have always been grateful that my grandparents stayed in India post-partition.  I have delighted in being able to tell people I’m Indian, not Pakistani, allowing their assumptions to lead them to the conclusion that I’m a harmless vegetarian that watches Slumdog Millionaire and wears saris.  Also, it helps that my name is neither Khan nor anything glaringly Muslim for that matter.  This has been a particularly useful identity while working as an associate at a prevalently Jewish law firm. Continue reading

Syria: While you were sleeping….

by Zakira Suriyeh

They begin to leak out slowly, after decades of silence, the details of what is simply known in Syria as “the events.” After decades of being stuffed deep into spaces we didn’t know were part of our anatomy, they reemerge clear, sharp, as if they had just happened yesterday.

For as long as I can remember, whenever we summoned the courage to speak, we whispered. We whispered behind closed doors, only in the company of closest family, with grandfathers darting their frightened looks into the dark corners of the room. They could never shake off the nagging feeling that someone was listening in the shadows. In Syria, there is always someone listening. During these rare instances of “courageous” grand declarations against oppression, corruption, injustice, it would be enough for one to whisper “The Events of Hama”, and these magic words of terror would instantly restore the room into a safe haven of silence. It seemed that in those moments of self-enforced silence, the shadows in the corner grew darker and longer like black holes in our living rooms ready to swallow us whole.

Hama, an ancient Syrian city, has become the symbol of this forced silence. Hama, the site of a massacre, represents an evil act that diminished an entire city into a painful example for the rest of the country, a reminder for what happens when the silenced dare to speak. Hama, is the way a brutal regime decided to end their bloody fairy tale with “and everyone was silent, happily ever after.”

But now, 29 years later, the details are leaking, oozing out, at a slow yet quickening drip. A close friend  from Hama, who has lived in America for half a century, used to just utter Hama under her breath and that would be enough to remember. But now, every time we speak, about Egypt, about Libya, even about events unrelated to politics or the Middle East, she will begin a story out of nowhere, out of that deep space, mentioning names of families and what happened to them in February 1982. Entire families that were terrorized by day and slaughtered by night.

On the phone (a “safe” American phone) friends whisper tales that they are hearing from their Hamwi friends, about children murdered in front of their mothers and husbands shot execution style in front of their families. Bodies were left in alleys to rot overnight, until the military trucks rambled down the ravaged streets at dawn. The survivors, crouched behind the thick stone walls, listened to the menacing rumble and the thuds of their loved ones as they were thrown into the back of the trucks, the bodies piled into a towering heap. The blood flowed out of the back of the trucks, forming a stream, staining the ancient cobblestoned streets of Hama crimson red. The screams of wives, daughters, mothers were stifled by others in the house as they hid in closets and underground shelters. The secrets, the details, once so masterfully concealed, come out with force now.

After all these years, the bloody news from another town triggers the memories. They have a primal need to utter the truth to anyone who will listen, as if they cannot contain the memories any longer, as if they need to scrub out the insides of their hearts, as if by finally releasing the stories to us, they will somehow be free of the guilt of silence.

So today, we watch, knowing very well what it means for a Syrian city to be sealed,  knowing very well that what is happening in Daraa, has already happened before. As the cliché goes, you cannot understand your present until you understand your past; but  when your past is your present and your present is your past on repeat, things get complicated. Supporters of the current regime claim that the son should not have to pay for the sins of his father. But the son has now dipped his hands into the blood of another city who dared to speak.

While we were sleeping, people in Daraa were slaughtered in the dead of night, their children huddled in beds crying with their mothers, listening to gunshots instead of lullabies. They fell asleep not knowing if they will ever see their fathers. The mothers lay awake, remembering when they were children 29 years ago, when they would hear the whispers of Hama.

The voice of Syria became fainter and fainter under Hafiz Assad’s rule until it disappeared completely after the massacre of Hama. Since then, silence has dominated the Syrian people, their stories died with their voices. But now, the voices are finally rising above a whisper. When children are imprisoned for graffiti, when some have decided that having a voice is a crime worth killing for, and others have decided having a voice is a cause worth dying for, we all must break our silence.

The streets of Daraa are streaked with rain mixed with blood, the blessing mixed with the curse. How will “the events” end this time? Will we continue to sit behind closed doors, praying there is no one lurking in the shadows? Will we whisper “Hama,” short pause, “Daraa”? Will yet another decade pass in silence? Will Daraa join Hama as a two-syllable code for silence, fear, terror? Or will it be the city that let its blood flow through its streets so the rest of the country could reclaim its voice?






Advice for Young Journalists by Journalists

Preparing a speech for high school students inducted into an international honors journalism society, I recently asked several writer/journalist friends, colleagues and acquaintances for “Advice For Young Journalists.”

I read the following advice to the students, their parents and their faculty, who found it enlightening.  I believe there’s benefit in these words for most writers and journalists working today.

Contributions by Dave Eggers,  Jeffrey Toobin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Aman Ali, Alex Von Tunzelman,  Reza Aslan, Laila al Arian, Dave Zirin, Sharaf Mowjood, Matt Duss, Alia Malek, Alexander Cockburn, Souhelia al Jadda, Stephanie Thomas, Matt Seaton

Advice for young journalists by young journalists

Laila Al Arian: Writer and producer for Al Jazeera English in Washington DC. She received an M.S. degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2006

I encourage young journalists to create a niche for themselves. Find a subject, area, or region that you are particularly interested in and become an expert on it, while of course honing your writing and reporting skills. That’s the best way to stand out in an already-crowded field and in an industry that’s constantly evolving and changing. Also, write, write, write — practice and experience will help you improve with time. Another piece of advice would be to learn how to report in all media (broadcast, web, etc.) because versatility is key. Finally, finding mentors in the field whose work you admire so they could give you advice and guidance and critique your work is crucial.

Alex Von Tunzelman: Award winning writer of “Indian Summer” and columnist for The Guardian

Whether you’re researching a 150-word article or an 150,000-word book, the most important thing to remember about the people you’re writing about is that they are human beings. However grand and important they may be, you must never be intimidated by them. You should, however, try your best to understand them. Even if they seem completely nuts.

Aman Ali: Reporter for Reuters; also created a blog “30 Mosques in 30 Days” and is now writing a book on his experiences.

Tell them if they want to land their dream job at some big cushy national news outlet, they need to work towards it.  Get published, anywhere and for anyone.  Local community newspapers are great ways to build your chops as a writer, its how I got my start in high school.  Plus with the Internet, there are now millions of sites that are starving for content, so there’s basically no excuse in 2011 that you can’t find a place to publish your stories/photos/videos.  Tell them to  find writers/photographers/columnists that they like and reach out to them.  You’d be surprised how approachable they are because many journalists love to give advice about how to get your foot in the door in this business. Continue reading